Medical anthropologists have identified several major eras of human disease, starting with the Age of Pestilence and Famine to the stage we’re in now, the Age of Degenerative and Man-Made Diseases. In 1900 in the United States, the top-three killers were infectious diseases: pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrheal disease. Now, the killers seem to be largely lifestyle diseases: heart disease, cancer, and chronic lung disease. Is this because antibiotics allow us to live long enough to suffer from degenerative diseases? No. The emergence of these chronic disease epidemics seem to have been accompanied by dramatic shifts in dietary patterns, best exemplified by what’s been happening to disease rates among people in the developing world as they’ve Westernized their diets.
In 1990 around the world, most years of healthy life were lost to under-nutrition, such as diarrheal diseases in malnourished children. Now, the greatest disease burden is attributed to high blood pressure, a disease of over-nutrition. The chronic disease pandemic has been ascribed in part to the near-universal shift toward a diet dominated by animal-sourced and processed foods—in other words, more meat, dairy, eggs, oils, refined grains, soda, salt, and sugar.
In 1776, each American consumed about 4 pounds of sugar annually. That had risen to 20 pounds by 1850 and 120 pounds by 1994. Today, we may be closer to ingesting 160 pounds of sugar every year, half of which may be fructose, taking up about 10 percent of our diet.
Even researchers paid by the likes of The Coca-Cola Company acknowledge sugar is empty calories without essential micronutrients. Concern has been raised, though, that sugar calories may be worse than just empty. Mounting evidence suggests that, in large enough amounts, added fructose in the form of table sugar and high fructose corn syrup may trigger processes that can lead to liver toxicity and other chronic diseases.
Under the American Heart Association’s sugar guidelines, most American women should consume no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, with the maximum for most American men being 150 daily calories. That means one can of soda could take us over the top for the entire day.
The World Health Organization recommends we reduce our added sugars, along with consumption of salt, trans fats, and saturated fats, because consumption of such foods may be the cause of at least 14 million deaths every year from chronic diseases.
Image Credit: Pixabay. This image has been modified.
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